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All You Need is Love

Rabbi Reuven Brand
Rosh Kollel, Yeshiva University Torah MiTzion Kollel of Chicago The Tur and Shulchan Aruch are two strictly legal codes that record Jewish law. It is highly unusual, therefore, to find philosophical meaning or rational explanations for mitzvot in their pages. However, in Hilchot Sukkah, both works record the reason for the mitzvah of Sukkah: In Sukkot you shall dwell for seven days … for I had Bnei Yisrael dwell in Sukkot' - these are the clouds of glory that surrounded them to protect them from the heat and sun. Shulchan Aruch O.C. 625:1 ‫בסוכות תשבו שבעת ימים וגו כי בסוכות‬ ‫הושבתי את בני ישראל הם ענני כבוד‬ ‫שהקיפם בהם לבל יכם שרב ושמש‬ ‫שולחן ערוך או"ח הלכות סוכה תרכה:א‬

In his commentary to the Tur (O.C. 625), the Bach (Rabbi Yoel Sirkis, Poland, 1561- 1640) suggests that regarding the mitzvah of Sukkah, the imperative to recall the message of the Sukkah is itself part of the legal requirements of the law. One does not fulfill their obligation in its entirety without remembering the reason why we sit in the Sukkah. We can understand this in light of the view that is cited, the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer, which maintains that the Sukkah commemorates the miracle of the clouds of glory, the ananei hakavod. The wonder of the heavenly clouds was a miraculous Divine phenomenon that warrants remembrance as a part of the mitzvah. Yet, Rabbi Akiva suggests a different interpretation as to the commemoration of the Sukkah: 'For in Sukkot I had the Bnei Yisrael dwell', these refer to the clouds of glory, says Rabbi Eliezer. Rabbi Akiva says these were actual huts that were made for them. Sukkah 11b ‫דתניא )ויקרא כג( כי בסכות הושבתי את בני‬ .‫ישראל - ענני כבוד היו, דברי רבי אליעזר‬ ‫רבי עקיבא אומר סוכות ממש עשו להם‬ :‫סוכה יא‬

According to this second opinion, we commemorate the actual Sukkot in which the Jews lived in the desert after leaving Egypt. What was so significant that we should remember these desert huts, a reminder which is part and parcel of the mitzvah itself? Let us raise another issue. One of the salient halachic features of the mitzvah of Sukkah is the principle of teishvu kein taduru. This means that we must dwell in our Sukkah in the same manner that we dwell in our homes. This concept animates many of our practices regarding the Sukkah, guiding us to view the Sukkah as our principal dwelling. Hence, we derive laws regarding spending time in the Sukkah, how we decorate our Sukkah, when we are not required to be in our Sukkah, etc. from the concept of teishvu kein taduru. It is, therefore, interesting to note that although we are required to dwell in our Sukkah as we would in our home, we may not build the Sukkah as our home. There is an ongoing dispute between Rabbi Yehuda and the rabbis regarding the nature of the structure of the Sukkah (Yoma 10b, Sukkah 2a). Rabbi Yehuda requires that the Sukkah be a
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dirat keva - a permanent structure. However, the rabbis rule that the Sukkah must be a dirat aray- a temporary structure. It must be tenuous by definition, and this is the accepted opinion in halacha. Hence, a Sukkah whose roof is above 20 amot is unacceptable because it is considered a permanent dwelling (Shulchan Aruch 633, Magen Avraham). How do we understand these two seemingly contradictory concepts of ‫ -תשבו כעין תדורו‬to live in the Sukkah as we live in our home and our insistence that the Sukkah must be a ‫ -דירת עראי‬a tenuous dwelling unlike our home? Is this not a paradox? Perhaps we can shed light on this issue by considering the megillah that we read during Sukkot, the book of Kohelet. At first glance, the book of Kohelet does not seem appropriate for the holiday of Sukkot. We ascribe the appellation ‫ -זמן שמחתנו‬the time of joy- to the holiday of Sukkot throughout the Yom Tov. It is quite curious, then, that we read Kohelet, with its dour prescription during our holiday of joy. Its abjectly depressing tone – ‫( הבל הבלים הכל הבל‬all is futile) seems to negate joy and almost all else in our world. Avudraham (Rabbi David ben Yosef Avudraham, Spain, 14th c.) offers two approaches to this question: On Shemini Atzeret, it is customary to read Kohelet because [the rabbis commented on the verse (11:2)] "Divide a portion into seven, and even into eight for you don't know what troubles shall be upon the earth that this refers to the seven days of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret … There is another reason and that is that Shlomo said these words on Sukkot as it states (Devarim 31:10) on the holiday [at the conclusion] of the shemitah year, on Sukkot, when the Jewish people come to be seen, gather the nation, the men, women and children, etc. and it states (Melachim I 8:2) they all gathered to King Shlomo during the month of Etanim, on Sukkot, etc. and it was then that he recited [Kohelet] during hakhel in order to rebuke the Jewish people. For this reason, it is logical to recite it on Sukkot. This is from the writings of Ibn HaYarchi. Sefer Abudraham, Tefillot HaPesach ‫וגם בשמיני חג העצרת נהגו לקרות‬ ‫קהלת מפני שכתוב בו תן חלק לשבעה‬ ‫וגם לשמונה אלו שבעת ימי החג ושמיני‬ ‫חג העצרת, ר"ל לפי שהוא חג האסיף‬ ‫להזהיר על תרומות ומעשרות ונרדים‬ ‫שלא לעבור עליהם בבל תאחר בשלש‬ ‫רגלים. ועוד טעם אחר כי שלמ"ה בחג‬ (‫אמרו בהקהל כמו שכתוב )דב' לא, י‬ ‫במועד שנת השמיטה בחג הסוכות בבא‬ ‫כל ישראל לראות וגו' הקהל את העם‬ ‫האנשים והנשים והטף וגו' וכתיב‬ ‫ויקהלו אל המלך שלמה בירח האתנים‬ ‫בחג וגו' ואז אמרו בהקהל להוכיח את‬ ‫ישראל על כן יתכן לאומרו בחג כל זה‬   .‫כתב אבן הירחי‬   ‫ספר אבודרהם תפלות הפסח‬

His first suggestion is a technical one, while his second is a didactic one. In order to ensure that our joy during this season doesn’t become excessive and inappropriate, we tamper it with the sobering message of Kohelet. Perhaps we can offer an alternative explanation. The Sfat Emet (Rabbi Yehuda Leib Alter, Poland, 1847- 1905) teaches that Sukkot is the culmination of our teshuva process, an effort comprised of two phases. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the days of awe, reflect the stage of teshuva meyirah, return to Hashem out of fear of punishment. There is, however, a more lofty stage which follows, known as teshuva meahavah. This is a return to Hashem simply because we desire to be connected with Him, to be a part of His mission, irrespective of its implications for us as individuals. This is the most exalted level of return, as is it an expression of pure love of

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Hashem. The Sfat Emet explains that Sukkot is an expression of this level of teshuva meahava; it manifests our love for Hashem. Now we can appreciate the message and context of Megillat Kohelet. Imagine a newly engaged couple, head over heels in love with each other. Often times, they seem to exist in an alternate reality. They focus solely on their relationship and are often oblivious to their surroundings, in particular, to their physical needs. Their usual insistence on certain number of hours of sleep, the cleanliness of their living quarters or even their normal diet are abandoned in this time of love. When two individuals are in love, the focus of their lives shifts to each other, and the mundane aspects of life fall to the wayside. The Talmud illustrates this with a saying: Somene used to say, ‘when the love is strong, we could sleep on the width of a knife. Now that the love is weak, a bed of sixty garmidin does not suffice for us.’ Sanhedrin 7a ‫ההוא דהוה קאמר ואזיל כי רחימתין הוה עזיזא‬ ‫אפותיא דספסירא שכיבן השתא דלא עזיזא‬ .‫רחימתין פוריא בר שיתין גרמידי לא סגי לן‬ .‫סנהדרין ז‬

Hence, our ideal experience of Sukkot is one which is infused with a complete teshuva meahava, a love for Hashem that is so focused and single-minded, that little else matters. In a world in which one is truly in love with the Divine, then the temporal world in which the physical exists is truly nothingness, as Kohelet teaches. In this light, the message of Kohelet complements our experience of Sukkot. It is therefore, most fitting that on this holiday of passionate, spiritual aspirations we put the physical world aside. We live in the Sukkah full time- ‫ -תשבו כעין תדורו‬so that we can spend every moment with our Beloved, basking in His shade. All the while, the physical environment remains temporary by design, as, to those who are truly in love with Hashem, the walls and roof do not matter. Perhaps this is the intent of Rabbi Akiva, who suggests that the Sukkot commemorate the huts in which we lived in the desert. We recall our first expression of our love for Hashem in the desert as the prophet Yirmiyahu recounts: Go forth and tell Yerushalayim, thus says the Lord, I remember the kindness of your youth, your complete love, that you went after me into the desert, in a barren land. Yirmiyahu 2:2 '‫הָֹלְך וקראתָ בְאָזְנֵי י ְרוּשָׁלַ ִם לֵאמ ֹר כּ ֹה אָמר ה‬ ַ ָָ ְ ‫זָכַרתִּ י לְָך חסֶד נְעוּרי ְִך אַהבַת כְּלוֹּלתָ י ְִך לכְתֵּ ְך‬ ֶ ֲ ַ ֶ ְ :‫אַחֲרי בּמּדְ בָּר בּארץ ֹלא ז ְרוּעָה‬ ֶֶ ְ ִ ַ ַ ‫ירמיהו ב:ב‬

We set aside our rational perspectives and physical needs to follow our Beloved into the barren desert to begin our national life together with Hashem. We lived in temporary shelters, Sukkot, for the worldly concerns of the time did not warrant our attention. The holiday of Sukkot reminds us of our love of Hashem during the first years of our relationship after the Exodus. While this notion of teshuva meahava and loving Hashem are lofty and perhaps beyond reach for most of us, we can always appreciate these ideas and ideals. Perhaps, the inclusion of the message of the Sukkah in our legal code is to underscore for us the importance of our spiritual aspirations. While we may not have yet achieved the ultimate level of teshuva meahava, we keep this idea in the center of our Sukkot experience. Hopefully, with our attention to this exalted level, we will be inspired to grow closer to Hashem during this holiday in which we merit to rejoice in His love.
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